Forgotten, but Not Gone: Recovering Memories of Emotional Stories
Laboratory methods for studying memory blocking and recovery include directed forgetting, retrieval-induced forgetting, and retrieval bias or memory blocking procedures. These methods primarily use word lists. For example, striking, reversible forgetting effects have been reported for both emotional (e.g., expletives) and non-emotional (e.g., tools) categorized lists of words. The present study examined forgetting and recovery of richer, more episodic materials. Participants studied a series of brief narrative passages varying in emotional intensity, such as a vignette involving torture or child abuse (emotional) vs. vignettes about cycling or insects (non-emotional). Free recall of the 1-word titles of the vignettes (e.g., Torture, Cyclist) showed a strong memory blocking effect, and cues from the stories on a subsequent cued recall test reversed the effect. In a second experiment, vignette-related pictures inserted into an incidental picture naming task triggered some recovery of initially forgotten vignettes, as shown on a post-test. Both emotional and non-emotional stories were susceptible to this reversible memory blocking effect.